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Review Wed Oct 14 2015

Widowspeak Floats Along Through The Chop Shop's 1st Ward


There was a huge green balloon on the loose at Chop Shop last night. I think I remember seeing it emerge from backstage at some point, a massive, bounding ball of latex the size of the moonshot Kyle Schwarber hit over Wrigley's right field scoreboard. Naturally, the audience did what the audience will do with a large inflated round object at a concert: hit it, watch it float like a buoy to touch the ceiling and then just as lazily and gracefully return to the waiting sea of hands. A few officers of the fun police tried in vain to hold down the balloon, but it always returned to the spotlight.

To me, the green balloon was a flawless representation of the music that Widowspeak provided for the rapt crowd--totally at ease with the ups and downs of life, floating along blithely no matter the circumstance, yet subtly full of vivacity and a pastoral joy.

The three artists on the bill couldn't have fallen more perfectly into the same milieu, with each building upon the next. Local singer/songwriter Lucky Eddie led off with just her breathy voice and an electric guitar, playing a boozy set of six lo-fi, melancholia-ridden songs. I wasn't quite sure what to make of her playing, which alternated between rumbling staccato notes and dissonant, nightmarish chords that were uncomfortable on my ears. But in retrospect the choppiness of her guitar work matched the brutal and clever honesty of her lyrics, which explored the loneliness and anxiety of love. "Loving you, I feel like a vampire, or a succubus--I suck at this," she exhaled at one point. Despite the morose tone of her performance, Lucky Eddie did a nice job of engaging the crowd as she sipped a whiskey between songs, exhorting everyone to move in closer. One guy actually climbed up on the stage and lounged there for the last two songs of the set, eliciting a smile from the artist that lent the music a life-affirming satisfaction.


Jazzy five-piece Fox & The Acres took the stage next, upping the energy but keeping the dampened tone of the evening intact. Vocalist and songwriter Meg Zahora derived much of the inspiration for the band's most recent album, Winter is Coming, from her move to Dixon, IL--pretty much the bleakest place you can imagine for a creative type. There's a reason Ronald Reagan left it for Hollywood. Her clear voice ached with the suffocation of living in such an unremarkable place on "100 Miles"; the other songs she and her band performed showcased the way broken love stings like alcohol on a fresh wound. Piano player Matthew Merz drove most of the musical motifs with intricate jazz melodies and chord progressions (he was seated, making him look even more professional), and the rest of the band backed him with a variety of well-coordinated syncopations. Guitarist TJ Fulfer's solos stood out, their economy of notes and emotive bluesiness reminding me of David Gilmour's work with Pink Floyd. At times the lyrics seemed to bring back old clichés about heartbrokenness, but given Zahora's jazz standard-type vocal delivery, the clichés almost seemed proper to revive.


Finally, Widowspeak slung their instruments across their shoulders and trooped onstage to a joyous reception. The last time I saw Widowspeak, they were playing atop the Hotel Lincoln in August as the acoustic duo of Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas, so I was interested to hear what they'd sound like with electric instruments and a rhythm section to back them up.

Aside from the music obviously becoming fuller, the most notable difference cane in Thomas' guitar playing. He managed to create a beautiful atmosphere on every song without turning his amp up to eleven, finding pockets in the music that needed expansion and expanding them but never overpowering the other instruments. The '70s influence on his style was apparent in everything from his George Harrison-esque slide riffs on "Harsh Realm" to the Neil Young-type intensity (filtered through Widowspeak's subdued aesthetic) on "Dead Love." Perhaps the highlight of the entire evening, though, was Thomas' behind-the-head solo on "Swamps," the guitarist bearing the weight of his instrument on his shoulders like Atlas as he swelled into a pristine melody that earned a shower of applause. It was a nice homecoming show for the Chicago native and St. Ignatius grad.


Meanwhile, Hamilton impressed me with her vocal integrity, sounding almost exactly the same as she does on Widowspeak's recorded material. Her timbre was a combination of Lucky Eddie's smoky whisper and Meg Zahora's crystal tones, floating like the green balloon above the sprawling, spacious music and exuding a carefree attitude on songs like "Dead Love (So Still)," "Girls," and the title track from the band's 2015 LP All Yours. They wrote the album in a cabin-type house in the Hudson River valley, so to hear the songs channel the idyllic spirit of the mid-19th century Transcendentalist philosophers was unsurprising, but the execution of the ideas represented in the music--leaving the city be, focusing on humanity's bond with the natural world, improving one's soul--made Widowspeak's performance truly enlightening. The instruments melded together like the seamless patchwork of rural life, whether they were expressing the new material or the faux-Western sound of the band's early work, but also left plenty of empty room in their music to be filled in by the audience's emotions.

In the end, the green balloon was relegated to a back corner of the Chop Shop and Widowspeak left the stage as the uplifted crowd cheered. It's funny: all three artists who played last night lie solidly within the realm of "music that I'd listen to while falling asleep," but I never felt fatigued. It was a helpful reminder that not all happiness needs to be energetic, that effortless drifting can be total bliss.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
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Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


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mP Shows
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Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
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